House of Commons officials colluded with MPs to let them make inflated claims on their mortgages, leaked internal documents seen by The Daily Telegraph have disclosed. Parliamentary authorities, overseen by Michael Martin, the Speaker, gave secret permission for some MPs to over-claim for thousands of pounds in home loan interest in deals that led to the systematic abuse of the taxpayer-funded expenses system.
Ben Chapman, a Labour MP, admitted last night that he was allowed to continue claiming for interest payments on his entire mortgage after repaying £295,000 of the loan in 2002. Over 10 months the arrangement allowed Mr Chapman to receive £15,000 for the part of the home loan which had been paid off. Last night, he said he would not give back the money.
Permission to claim “phantom” mortgage payments is understood to have been offered to several MPs before 2004. It was stopped after Commons officials admitted it should never have been allowed. Michael Martin has been Speaker since 2000 and was therefore ultimately responsible for the arrangements – which has never been independently investigated. The arrangements – for which the justification is not clear – came to light in the claims files of Mr Chapman, the Labour MP for Wirral South.
Mr Chapman, who has been a ministerial aide, approached the fees office at the end of 2002 to explain that he was repaying £295,939 of the mortgage on his designated second home in Lambeth, south-east London. This reduced the interest payments – met by the taxpayer – from £1,900 to £400 per month.
“By paying off capital I am forgoing interest and investment opportunities elsewhere,” he told the fees office.
He and an official “thus agreed that the mortgage should remain for ACA (Additional Costs Allowance) purposes at the original amount”.
An email between senior officials within the fees office discusses Mr Chapman’s case and discloses that it is not unique. “… I have heard similar arrangements being agreed to in the past,” one said. “Personally, I do not believe that such an arrangement should ever have been suggested.”
Things just got a whole lot worse. Someone in Parliament must take responsibility for the laxity of the Fees Office. Ultimately the Speaker is responsible, but there are officials who earn six figure salaries who need to be held to account too. They should be named and shamed. And then sacked.